Monday September 18, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC
Editorial analysis by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
New measures are coming to BC that will help create more housing as the Province speeds up permitting and helps build more secondary suites for rent, said Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon in their announcement in Richmond this morning.
“People in our province deserve a decent place to live they can actually afford to rent or buy, but a chronic housing shortage and long permit approval times are frustrating that achievable goal,” said Eby.
The premier articulated awareness about the challenges not only about the cost of housing but how people in various life situations are in need of different types of housing that are often not available in the market when needed; those groups would include seniors who are downsizing or finding what they can afford, young families, students, and others.
“Our government is taking action,” said Eby. We’re making it easier and faster to get provincial permits to build new homes, and offering financial support for people who could build a suite they can rent out at more affordable rates. We’ve got lots to do, which is why we’re focusing on initiatives like these that make a real and tangible difference for thousands of families.”
A new approach to building permit centralization was announced back in January in Vancouver, focussing on hiring: the Permitting Strategy for Housing was supported in January by an initial investment of 42 new full-time positions — once those positions have been filled, the team can be increased to 203 positions. Sounds like that has been achieved.
“Homeowners in B.C. can now access our new Home Suite Home guide to get the information they need to make an informed choice on whether adding a rental unit to their property is right for them,” says Kahlon.
Premier Eby again today emphasized the significant population influx to BC — citing again that 250,000 people arrived in BC in two years (2021 and 2022). This of course fundamentally pushes up housing demand but has impacts in almost every other aspect of living in BC including jobs, child care, education and health care.
It also requires a shift in people’s attitudes about housing, including the aspects of owning vs renting, size, and timing of when in the lifecycle there is a purchase or a change to/from rental.
The urgency of the housing situation now in BC will probably push the social change aspect along without much difficulty now.
From all angles:
Given the complexity of the housing challenge, today’s announcement can legitimately be called a significant step forward. Eby called the housing challenge “a wicked problem” but that the province is going about it from all angles.
While one reporter challenges that the two new directions were merely “tinkering around the edges”, for anyone who understands the housing permitting and construction processes, these steps offer a significant improvement of the process of building housing (or suites) and the speed at which more supply can become available.
Eby repeated a few times that the new secondary suites guidance will include information on “what it means to be a landlord”, as that is not something every person is suited for.
It’s tough enough to present a live on-site media session. Intense beeping sounds from machinery in the background was interruptive to an uncomfortable decibel level. The event was held at a lumber yard.
Homes for People:
The two initiatives announced today are part of the Province’s Homes for People action plan. Announced in spring 2023, the plan builds on record investments in housing since 2017, and sets out several actions to deliver the homes people need in a shorter timeframe, while creating more vibrant communities throughout BC.
PART ONE – Permitting process:
The first action focuses on speeding up the permitting process through the launch of a one-stop shop that eliminates the need for multiple permitting applications across different ministries. The Single Housing Application Service (SHAS) will help deliver more homes faster by creating a simpler permitting application for homebuilders. The service will help clear permitting backlogs, while maintaining environmental standards. With the introduction of SHAS, the Province expects permit timelines to be reduced by two months.
“Our government is laser-focused on taking action on housing,” said Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship. He was enthusiastic during today’s media session.
“One way we’re doing this is by eliminating the current permitting backlog and speeding up homebuilding project approvals with the launch of a user-friendly tool that connects people to project experts,” said Cullen. “These expert ‘navigators’ will guide homebuilders through the provincial permitting process and provide a personal, one-stop shop that will streamline the process.”
The SHAS connects homebuilders to “navigators,” dedicated staff in the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, who guide applicants through all stages of permit applications, act as the single, dedicated point of contact for all information related to homebuilding permits and co-ordinate permitting decisions across ministries.
While the SHAS will improve this process for homebuilders, a web-application model was recently the focus for contaminated sites applications through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. A new online tool and business process will expedite and enhance a client’s experience through the Site Remediation Services web application, further supporting the work of the B.C. Housing Action Taskforce that continues to prioritize:
- Indigenous-led projects;
- projects that include multiple units; and
- social-housing projects.
The SHAS builds on efforts already underway by the Housing Action Taskforce, which has achieved:
- processing 65% of all housing-related applications received by March 31 and doing that 49 days faster;
- reduced riparian-area assessments from 12-18 months to a new service standard of 90% of applications get reviewed within 30 days of receipt;
- reduced the contaminated-sites backlog and review time from 12-18 months to an average time of nine months;
- the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has resolved 90% of municipal housing applications in the Lower Mainland and resolved 49% of files from across the province; and
- as of the end of Aug. 31, the overall change in timelines for housing applications continues to trend downwards across the four ministries.
PART TWO – Secondary suites:
The second initiative centres on secondary suites and comes ahead of planned legislation this fall to make secondary suites legal throughout the province, and a pilot incentive program to help homeowners build secondary suites.
To help homeowners navigate this process, the Province has launched a new comprehensive guide, titled Home Suite Home. The guide provides people with the information to prepare to build and manage a rental suite in British Columbia. This follows recent steps to make improvements at B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch, including more timely dispute resolutions.
The guide can be used as a resource for people preparing to access the Secondary Suite Incentive Program (SSIP). The pilot program, set to launch in early spring 2024, will provide approximately 3,000 homeowners with forgivable loans of up to $40,000 to create a new secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit on their property. The loans will only go to properties that will be rented below market rates. Additional eligibility requirements of the program have been made available so people interested can prepare ahead of the launch.
“We’ve heard from a lot of homeowners that they would love to create a rental suite on their property, but find the process to build and manage one confusing and time-consuming,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing. “Our new Home Suite Home guide and secondary suite pilot program will clearly and concisely provide homeowners with the information they need to make an informed choice on whether adding a rental unit is right for them.”
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Island Social Trends reports daily on news of Vancouver Island, BC and the national scene — the stuff that matters to people in their daily lives and making their longer-term decisions. This is news through a socioeconomic lens, available to all readers at IslandSocialTrends.ca . Editor and Publisher: Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR.